It is likely to be a continuing emergency that will last several years, according to Dr Joseph Domenech, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Chief Veterinary Officer.
The prospect of a human pandemic aside, the damage the disease will cause to bird populations and domestic poultry in particular, was tremendous, he
The knock-on effect on the poultry sector was enormous and it could deal a significant blow to local, national and regional economies, he said in a statement issued in Accra on Wednesday.
He said at the local level, smallholder families dependent on chickens and other poultry for sustenance or livelihood faced the prospect of losing their animals through death caused by the disease or culling to prevent the disease from spreading.
In many countries, fear of infection was leading consumers to shy away from poultry, throwing the multi-million dollar industry into crisis, he said.
FAO is concerned that international interest is focused almost exclusively on the possibility of avian flu hitting human populations to the neglect of its potentially devastating impact on poultry and other animals.
"This fails to recognize that the best way to protect people is to control and try to eradicate the disease in animals," Dr Domenech said.
FAO is stressing that the international fight against avian flu must start with increased surveillance and monitoring of poultry and other animals; followed by rapid reporting of any outbreaks to the competent authorities and strict measures to limit the spread of the disease through the culling and secure disposal of sick animals and the control of movements of animals and products.
It is also urging farmers and traders, and all others who come into close contact with poultry, to be particularly careful about ensuring basic hygienic standards and to tighten up bio-security on the farms.
The movement of poultry to and from markets and people involved in poultry production and marketing, are the main spreaders of the disease to previously unaffected areas.
The rapid spread of the disease means that FAO now needs 308 million dollars for its contribution to the global programme for the progressive control of avian influenza over the next three years - more than twice the sum required a few months ago. To date, FAO has only received 71 million dollars.